I came across some old writing notebooks from high school and college. The assortment of prose, poetry, and story ideas were so bad, so stuck in their time, that I did something I couldn’t bring myself to do before: destroy the pages.
I’d kept these books for years because they contained my writing, my penmanship, my creations. I figured that, someday, I would discover a line or a character or a thought salvageable for a future work. What I decided, however, was that my mind works so differently than my sixteen- to twenty-year-old self that I’m better off crafting new concepts.
Stephen King doesn’t keep such an archive. He thinks “a writer’s notebook is the best way there is to immortalize really bad ideas, whereas the Darwinian process takes place if you don’t write anything down. The bad ones float away, and the good ones stay.”
My process still utilizes a writer’s notebook. Some of the story ideas I jot down simply get flushed from time to time. Like moving on from an ex by tossing that final trinket, dispelling old baggage is mentally liberating.
Readers and writers often treat words as sacrosanct, but we must not forget they are the expressions of humans, who are by definition imperfect. Meanwhile we authors strive to create the perfect, immortal expression. It’s possible. It’s been done before. And readers will protect those articulations with their dying breaths.
Just never forget to break those words down into their component parts to see how well they actually work together. If they don’t make sense, get rid of them. But if they can survive reassembly, then they’re worth preserving—that is, until the next time you decide to reexamine them to learn something new.